MORE than 100 teenagers are living in unregulated accommodation across Essex, it has been revealed.

Essex County Council has confirmed roughly 120 16 and 17-year-olds are in semi-independent placements which are not regulated by the Government watchdog Ofsted.

Unregulated homes are allowed in law for children, usually above the age of 16, who need help to live independently.

However, their use has been criticised due to concerns it leaves young people vulnerable to abuse and grooming.

Earlier this year, a BBC investigation into unregulated homes found 14 council investigations, including in Essex, had been launched into “organised and complex abuse” at the facilities in the past four years.

Lee Scordis, Labour councillor for Abbey Division in Colchester, labelled unregulated homes use a “scandal” and a “symptom of austerity”.

He said: “How can councils which claim to care honestly send children into these environments where they fall prey to criminals and sexual abuse.

“We have one of these semi-independent homes in my area, which is not staffed 24/7 as it should be, has had various police visits and Essex County Council still spends taxpayers money sending vulnerable children here. It’s an absolute disgrace.”

Essex County Council said its semi-independent accommodation was sourced through “appropriate commissioning arrangements” where providers had to meet certain quality standards.

The accommodation is overseen by the Children and Young People’s Placement Service.

A spokesman said: “Regular monitoring activity is undertaken and any concerns are addressed.

“For this reason we refer to it as locally regulated rather than unregulated provision.

“This provision applies to semi-independent accommodation for 16 and 17-year-olds, where they are supported to live independently, with practical and emotional support from key workers with tasks such as budgeting, shopping and cooking.

“It should be used as a stepping stone to independence and only ever when it’s in a child’s best interests.

“For many young people it’s the right choice. Some young people do not want to live with foster carers or live in a children’s home.”